Agra Fort

While the splendid Agra Fort is a well-established stop on the famed Golden Triangle tour, it gets surprisingly little press. The reason is simple: The Agra Red Fort may be a once-in-a-lifetime type of tourist site, but it loses out in the contest for attention with Agra's other monumental edifice, as pictures of the Taj Mahal are the most recognizable images from the city. However, together the attractions create a wonderful surprise on arriving in Agra, for there are not one but two absolutely stunning sights to experience.

In truth, this massive fort in Agra is more like a walled city. Books on Agra Fort history tell how it was conceived and constructed back in the sixteenth century by the Mughal Emperor Akbar. Initially designed for military purposes, the Agra Fort evolved in look and function over the years, especially under the guidance of Akbar's grandson, Shah Jahan, who acceded to the thrown during the first half of the 1600s. Shah Jahan introduced white marble as a building material and delicately transformed the imposing structure so that it could also serve as a Royal Palace. Couple this with various additions that have taken place over the years since, and you arrive at what tourists see today: a fort whose scale is near stupendous and whose beauty is equally startling.

Pass through the looming Amar Singh gate into this fort in Agra and a barrage of grand architecture and contrasting, intricate decoration meets your eyes. A particular highlight is the white-marble quarters of the Musammen Burj, where Shah Jahan saw out his final years under a form of comfortable imprisonment following the actions of his son, the notorious Aurangzeb. Another part of this fort in Agra that's worthy of an hour or two of rapt gazing is Jehangir's Palace, a typically Mughal red-sandstone blend of Indian and Arabic influences. To get a taste of the administrative side of life in the Agra Fort, meanwhile, seek out the Siwan-i-Am (Hall of Public Audiences), which was where the Emperor would listen to appeals from his people and give audiences to foreign dignitaries.

The Agra Red Fort is situated close to the Taj Mahal. It's possible to walk the two miles from one to the other, though during the hot summer months taking a rickshaw is probably advised. Make sure to barter over the price before getting in, as the rickshaw drivers know more than the odd trick or two when it comes to taking their foreign passengers for a ride. Also keep in mind that a day ticket is available, providing access to the two sites at a discounted rate.

The city of Agra itself is well appointed to deal with incoming tourists, which is unsurprising, given the presence of the Taj and the Agra Red Fort. Day trips from New Delhi are a possibility, with frequent trains connecting the two cities, and an abundance of tour operators are running the route should you be willing to spend a bit of extra cash. Such day trips are fun but can also be grueling, and the wise traveler will probably plan to spend more than a few hours at the Taj, the Agra Fort, and the city's other select sights. If you plan to explore other cities in India during your vacation, the Agra fort makes an excellent stop on the Golden Triangle tours, which also visit Jaipur and New Delhi.

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